Justin Timberlake is remembering the very first time he got chased by a mob of shrieking teenage girls.
“I was about 15 or 16 years old,” he says. “We’d just given a concert in Germany at a festival on this huge field. And we were in the tour bus afterward, driving on a dirt road, and I looked out the window and saw all these young, impressionable females running after the bus.” He shrugs his shoulders and gets to the point of the story: “I think we can all agree that I did not have a normal childhood.”
Twenty years later, at age 36, Timberlake is having an unusual adulthood as well. At the moment, he’s lounging at a corner table at the bar in the Chateau Marmont, his still-babyish face half hidden behind a scruffy beard and a black wool cap. Timberlake has been so famous for so long — as the youngest member of the wildly successful 1990s boy band NSYNC, as a multiplatinum Grammy-winning solo artist (26 million albums sold) and, increasingly, as an accomplished screen actor (he’ll be co-starring with Kate Winslet in Woody Allen’s next movie) — that he’s learned to wear his celebrity like a pair of comfy old hammer pants. Indeed, he only can barely recall a time when he wasn’t dodging paparazzi and making headlines for things like dating Britney Spears (and making a music video about their breakup) and accidentally setting off Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at Super Bowl XXXVIII (even today, not a topic he’s eager to talk about).
Like every new dad, Timberlake is struggling to make adjustments to the work-life balance. “At first, it broke me down,” he admits. “Those first eight months felt like those old [Ed Sullivan] shows where people are balancing spinning plates on poles — except if you drop one, they die.” Of course, kids also have a way of making parents re-evaluate their own past, of rethinking their own choices and wondering whether their children might find a better, easier, healthier way. “Would I want my child to follow my path?” contemplates Timberlake, pausing for a long swig of beer. “You know, I haven’t been able to answer that question in my mind. If he wanted it bad enough, I suppose I could teach him a lot about what not to do.”
This story first appeared in the Feb. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.